SEC loads up on outside opponents
By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
Aug. 1, 2002
The three best non-conference opponents any SEC team could hope for would be Army, Navy and Duke. All three have prestige and recognition and none of them can beat you. Even lowly Vanderbilt went to Duke last year and defeated the Blue Devils 42-28. The Commodores won only two games last year. One of them was Duke.
So because there isn't enough room on the schedules of those three, the SEC has loaded up on schools without prestige but who still can't beat you. It's called creative scheduling. A win is a win is a win. At the end of the year they don't ask you you who you beat, just how many did you win? That's the standard cliche.
But who? instead of how many? is probably the reason Ole Miss wasn't invited to a bowl game at the end of the 2001 season. The Rebels played three pussy cats in Murray State, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee and when those three were subtracted from their 7-4 record, the 4-4 conference season wasn't enough to get them a trip and a bowl wristwatch.
The SEC gets heat from the national media for constantly proclaiming that it's the best football conference in the country and then staying away from meaningful intersectional games as if going to, or bringing in, strong outside opponents will be bad for their computer rating health.
Somewhere along the way most of the SEC seems to have gotten the message. Every team in the league except Arkansas has at least one non-conference team on their schedule which commands respect and against whom they will have to prove their muscle.
With the likes of Southern California, Syracuse, Clemson and Texas Tech and others sprinkled through the Southeastern Conference's master schedule, we will find out just how good we really are. There are still a majority of pushovers coming to visit SEC schools, but sprinkled among them are a number of Top 20 opponents.
Ole Miss, for example, will go on the road to play Texas Tech. The Rebels haven't lost a regular season non-conference game since Nov. 5, 1994 when Memphis State beat them 17-16. That's a string of 22 straight.
Texas Tech, however, is a threat to snap that string. Yes, Memphis could be troublesome but either Louisiana- Monroe or Arkansas State would be listed among the all-time upsets should they beat the Rebels. But one major opponent is certainly better than last year's none.
Mississippi State opens against one of the best teams in the country and on the road, no less. They go to Oregon to play the Ducks and give us a measuring stick between the SEC and the Pac-Ten. The Bulldogs also have Troy State and it's hard to make light of that team since they beat MSU in 2001. Memphis is on their schedule also, along with Jacksonville State. One toughie for sure. Two that might be. One that won't be.
Auburn could also help the league's reputation. They play another Pac-Ten team, Southern Cal, in their opener and follow that game a little later in the season with Syracuse. With eight conference games and those two toughies, the Tigers deserve their breathers against Western Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe.
Speaking of testers, what about Alabama's second game, a trip to Norman to play Oklahoma? And when it comes to teams that if you overlook them they can beat you, the Tide has to play Southern Mississippi in their fourth game. The one good thing about that is their opponent the previous week is North Texas State, not an emotional outing.
Vanderbilt finally has three non-conference they can win along with one they won't. The three Ws are Furman, Connecticut (I didn't realize that basketball school even had a football team) and Middle Tennessee. The L will be at the hands of Georgia Tech.
Florida has a couple of 500 pound gorillas on their schedule. Miami of Florida is one. Florida State is the other. One breather such as Ohio University hardly seems to be enough.
Georgia plays both Clemson and Georgia Tech out of the ACC. The SEC needs the Bulldogs to win them both. The other two are Northwestern State and New Mexico State.
LSU has one big league non-conference opponent in Virginia Tech but after that settles for the likes of Citadel, Miami of Ohio and Louisiana Lafayette.
Tennessee has also Miami (Florida) on their schedule and they don't get more difficult than that. But then they also play a very mediocre Rutgers along with Wyoming and Middle Tennessee.
Kentucky, with what the know-it-alls say is a poor team will have to gear up against emotional Louisville in their opener and one of the Big Ten's weaker teams, Indiana, in Game 3 They have, however, also scheduled Texas-El Paso and Middle Tennessee.
South Carolina has two loseable games outside the conference, Virginia and Clemson. They also have two they can already count in the right column, New Mexico State and Temple.
As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks should sleep easily with a schedule that includes Boise State, South Florida, Troy State, Louisiana-Lafayette, all of them home games. As a matter of fact, Arkansas has only three games on the road all season, Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi State. A.D. Frank Broyles may not have known how to handle Nolan Richardson but he's obviously an expert in schedule making.